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Eight weeks of impeachment has taken a toll on Trump

Image: President Donald Trump pauses while speaking at the Economic Club of
President Donald Trump pauses while speaking at the Economic Club of New York on Nov. 12, 2019. Copyright Brendan Smialowski AFP - Getty Images
Copyright Brendan Smialowski AFP - Getty Images
By Chuck Todd and Mark Murray and Ben Kamisar with NBC News Politics
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First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.


WASHINGTON — It's been a rough two months for Trump and the GOP: Eight whole weeks have now passed since Democrats began their impeachment inquiry on Sept. 24, and it's hard to overstate just how damaging it has been for Trump and the GOP.

Let us list the ways.

  • Every week (and sometimes every day) has produced a new bombshell revelation. The most recent was from State Department official David Holmes, who testified he overheard a phone conversation between Trump and EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland: "I then heard President Trump ask, quote, 'So he's going to do the investigation?' unquote. Ambassador Sondland replied that, 'He's going to do it,' adding that President Zelensky will quote, 'Do anything you ask him to.'"
  • Republicans have been forced to give changing and conflicting defenses — Trump's July 25 call was perfect; there was no quid pro quo; if there was a quid pro quo, it's not impeachable; the testimony against Trump is merely hearsay; let the voters decide about the president's actions.
  • During it all, Trump has tweeted more and more, including that tweet Friday directed at witness Marie Yovanovitch: "Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad. She started off in Somalia, how did that go?"
  • The president has uttered more and more falsehoods about Ukraine and impeachment (CNN has counted 45 different false claims).
  • And during this time period, the GOP has lost gubernatorial elections in the red states of Kentucky and Louisiana, as well as control of the legislature in increasingly blue Virginia.

The good news for Trump is that the totality of the last eight weeks hasn't changed his political standing. A new NPR/PBS/Marist poll has his approval rating essentially unchanged at 41 percent, and it shows the public is divided about his impeachment/removal from office.

But what the impeachment inquiry has done is produce the worst version of Trump — the tweeting, the dissembling, the changing explanations.

As we wrote on Friday, he can't compartmentalize.

Impeachment inquiry update: Today's Hearing-palooza

And when it comes to the public testimony, today will be the biggest day yet - with four different witnesses testifying, per NBC's Geoff Bennett.

  • Today beginning at 9:00 am ET: Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and VP aide Jennifer Williams
  • Today beginning at 2:30 pm ET: Kurt Volker and Tim Morrison
  • Wednesday morning: Gordon Sondland
  • Wednesday afternoon: Laura Cooper and David Hale
  • Thursday morning: Fiona Hill and David Holmes

2020 Vision: One day out before tomorrow's MSNBC/WaPo debate

On the campaign trail today: The day before Wednesday's MSNBC/Washington Post debate in Atlanta, most of the Dem candidates are down for debate prep… Julian Castro, who didn't qualify for the debate, holds a discussion with Angela Rye in Atlanta… And Stacey Abrams participates in a discussion on voter suppression in Atlanta.

Dispatches from NBC's campaign embeds: While in Atlanta yesterday, Pete Buttigieg responded to reporters' questions about him continuing to poll low with African-American voters. From NBC's Priscilla Thompson: "Buttigieg responded to NBC's question about the latest poll showing him at 0 percent support among African-Americans. Buttigieg said he tries not to get too caught up in poll numbers, but that polls also showed a number of voters there still don't know who he is. 'There are some areas, certainly places like Iowa where folks feel like they've seen every candidate dozens of times, others where clearly we've got a lot of work to do just to make sure that the message gets out,' he said. 'And it's one of the reasons why we're making investments both on the ground, and on the airwaves and South Carolina.'"

Buttigieg went on to say he "understands the skepticism of a new political figure coming in making promises to the black community, but he hopes in doing show he's demonstrating 'where our priorities are and where my heart is,' so that people know what they're voting for."

Data Download: And the number of the day is … zero

That's the share of African-American vote that Pete Buttigieg gets in South Carolina, according to a Quinnipiac poll of the state that was released on Monday.

The overall horserace numbers in the poll among likely Democratic primary voters: Joe Biden 33 percent, Elizabeth Warren 13 percent, Bernie Sanders 11 percent and Pete Buttigieg 6 percent.

And the horserace among likely African-American Democratic primary voters in the state: Biden 44 percent, Sanders 10 percent, Warren 8 percent, Kamala Harris 6 percent and Buttigieg … 0 percent.

Talking policy with Benjy

The big policy news over the last week has been Elizabeth Warren's plan to split Medicare for All into two parts, with the (relatively) easier task of expanding health care through a public option coming first, and the harder task of banning private plans second, per NBC's Benjy Sarlin. This comes on the heels of her plan to finance Medicare for All without directly raising taxes on the middle class.

In combination, the plans come with upside. Warren has argued her two-bill approach shows she'll both protect Obamacare and get more reforms done ASAP rather than getting bogged down in every detail of the current Medicare for All bill. If you're a moderate nervous about the general election, the plans signal she'll have flexibility responding to attacks on Medicare for All's private insurance provisions and its taxes. If you're a progressive worried about how to make single-payer a reality, Warren's filled in more details than Sanders has about his own bill, and earned high praise for it from the House's lead Medicare for All sponsor, Rep. Pramila Jayapal.

But the risks are massive. Warren is now effectively all on her own on this issue, making her a gigantic target for criticism from all sides for the rest of the primaries.

On the left, the alliance between her and Sanders on this issue has never looked shakier. He has made clear he doesn't like her plan to finance Medicare for All and on Friday said he'dpursue his full billon day one.

At the same time, the center-left candidates show no sign of being placated by her latest moves. The Biden and Buttigieg campaigns both portrayed the two-step plan as validation of their criticism that full Medicare for All is politically untenable. And while Warren has made clear her plan is still much more far-reaching than either of theirs, she's now operating under a framework that Buttgieg supports — passing a public option to get to Medicare for All. That could make it harder to play the purity card with the left against him.

Tweet of the day

ICYMI: News clips you shouldn't miss

The White House physician released a new statement Monday night denying speculation about the president's weekend hospital trip and reiterating the administration's previous statement that the trip was part of a routine checkup.


House investigators released testimony from David Holmes, a U.S. embassy official in Ukraine, who raised questions about a phone call between Ambassador Gordon Sondand and President Trump.

The New York Times reports that Kurt Volker is expected to testify Tuesday that he didn't know about attempts by others to link Ukrainian foreign aid to an investigation into former Vice President Biden and his son.

Politico reportsHouse freshmen want Democrats to move on President Trump's proposed trade deal with Canada and Mexico, and are worried impeachment could blunt their re-election.

Trump Agenda: Prisoner release

The Taliban released two American University of Kabul professors, one American and one Australian, who have been held hostage since they were kidnapped at gunpoint three years ago.

A senior State Department aide resigned Monday after an NBC News investigation into whether she inflated her resume.


The New York Times explores how Rudy Giuliani's foreign policy efforts were undertaken on open cell-phone lines and unclassified applications.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the Trump administration is reversing previous U.S. policy and now believes Israeli settlements in the West Bank don't violate international law.

An IRS whistleblower spoke to Senate aides about concerns about potential Treasury Department interference into the audit of the president or vice president's tax returns.

The Supreme Court temporarily blocked a ruling that would have required an accounting firm to turn over the president's tax returns to Congress.

2020: Stacey in the spotlight

Stacey Abrams may not be running for president, but she looms large in the 2020 debate as she works to expand voting rights.


The New York Times looks at how Tulsi Gabbard's spat with Hillary Clinton has breathed new life into her campaign.

Joe Biden is trying to clean up his position on marijuana, arguing he wants to decriminalize possession and allow states to legalize it after telling town hall attendees he doesn't support federal legalization at this time.

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